Mumbai Film Festival: Day 1 highlights

‘Certain Women’, ‘A Death in the Gunj’ and other films we liked on day one of the festival – and the one thing we didn’t

A still from the film Neon Demon
A still from the film Neon Demon

Fashion gone wild, a Komodo Dragon and Kristen Stewart are some of our favourite moments from the opening day of the Mumbai Film Festival

Road to Mandalay

When a girl is forced to trade sex for money for the first time in her life, she sees on the bed of the hotel suite not her obnoxious client but a Komodo Dragon. With its forked tongue salivating with lust, it is coming to devour her. The Burmese film Road to Mandalay not only stuns us with such moments of wild imagination but ones that are also informed by the aesthetics of the region. A doomed love story of two Burmese immigrants in search of a better lives in Thailand, Road to Mandalay is one of the reasons we go to film festivals: to discover countries and cultures in a way we’d have never known about them.

Clickhere to view Road to Mandalay’s trailer

Certain Women

If you want to begin your Mumbai Film Festival with something that gets your pulse racing, don’t start with Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. Yet, watch it you must. Unhurried, acutely observed and beautifully acted, this triptych of stories is based on Maile Meloy’s collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. The film, also written by Reichardt, has a Carver-like sharpness and empathy for the small joys and many disappointments of small-town, middle-income lives. The most affecting story is the one in which a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) develops an attachment to a frazzled young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who drives in from another town to teach night class; the one with Laura Dern as a sympathetic attorney is nearly as good. There’s a wealth of detailed observation, and some lovely performances from Gladstone, Dern, Michelle Williams and Jared Harris.

Click here to view Certain Women’s trailer

Neon Demon

Part hellish, part seductive and wholly sensuous — Nicolas Winding Refn transports us from one dreamscape to another in Neon Demon. Refl melds his high-art sensibilities with his fondness for the LA-lore of the movies (most notably Mulholland Drive) in his new film that is set in LA’s ultra-glamourous modelling industry. It cuts deep wounds into the story of a small town naive girl comes to make it big in the city and invokes our dark, primordial fears — alternating between an ominous 80s electronic score and eerie silences. It’s the kind of film that will divide opinion. But if you are amongst those who don’t care about the “story” as long as it engages, Neon Demon is a pure, heady experience. And your only chance to enjoy it on the big screen.

Click here to view Neon Demon’s trailer

A Death in the Gunj

Like last year, this time’s opening film – in name only, since it comes at the end of the first day – was an Indian one. The slot went to Konkona Sensharma’s A Death in the Gunj, which turned out to be all sorts of charming. There will be opportunities for detailed analysis later; suffice to say that this is one of the more spectacular ensembles of recent years (Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Tillotama Shome, Vikrant Massey, Gulshan Devaiah, Tanuja, Om Puri), that Sensharma exercises a tremendous degree of control while letting things seem loose and unscripted, and that the score, by Sagar Desai, is a low-key wonder.

Click here to view A Death in the Gunj’s trailer

…and the day’s let-down

Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke is one of the most lauded art house directors in the world, and expectations for his conversation with Chaitanya Tamhane were accordingly high – perhaps a bit too high. At any rate, the session was less memorable than one might have expected. The first question received a 45-minute answer from the director, by the end of which the audience was understandably restive. Tamhane tried to change the pace a little, and there were some gems from Zhangke (like when he mentioned how significant it was when post-Cultural Revolution song titles started replacing “we” instead of “I”), but it never felt like an actual conversation and there was little insight into great Zhangke films like Platform, Still Life and A Touch of Sin. Director Jordan Schiele, whose Dog Days is in competition, did a stellar job translating from Mandarin to English.

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